Assessing Multiliteracies

Posted by tricialauter on July 21, 2011

As the video demonstrates, the skills that are being routinely assessed through standardized tests are not commonly transferable to successful lives after graduation. The link between what and how students are learning, how they are assessed, and what they encounter within their real lives continues to weaken. But what is actually wrong with today’s assessments? What is a better way to assess the multiliterate student?

Time for a Change

Current assessments do not reflect the social and cultural needs of the students; the skills needed in the new economy and the digital world. As discussed in earlier posts, the way one learns has changed. Work, civic and private lives have changed with the compression of time and space (New London Group, 1996). Answering multiple choice questions does not demonstrate the skills to work within a diverse setting, communicate effectively, or successfully complete a group based project. “The end result is a widening gap between the knowledge and skills students are acquiring in schools and the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the increasingly global, technology-infused, 21st century workplace…We must move from primarily measuring discrete knowledge to measuring students’ ability to think critically, examine problems, gather information, and make informed, reasoned decisions while using technology,” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007).

Assessments then, must reflect the context of learning. “Learning must form the basis of our assessment practice,” and it must “be grounded in processes that reflect current understandings of learning, literacy, and society,” (Costello, P. & Johnston, P., 2006, p. 265). For assessment to reflect the principles of multiliteracies, it must take into consideration the way a diverse student population learns, as well as the global and technological context of life. Assessments must acknowledge the multiple paths of understanding, learning, and literacy development.

Considerations of Cultural/Social Influences

Not only does current educational practices and assessments not reflect the skills needed to be successful as an adult, assessments also do not take into consideration the social and cultural factors that influence the way that students learn, critique, and present information. As considered throughout this blog, the very act of reading and writing has been transformed. No longer is it solely related to the act of reading or writing text in the form of a physical book. For students, literacy takes on different meanings within different contexts, whether it is through physical or digital text, and can mean different things for different students.  Describing common writing assessments, Botelho et. al (2007) state that, “Writing assessment practices, however, tend to narrow views of writing to the mastery of widely-used processes in order to create a product that conforms to recognizable standards…These tools do not look at the social contexts in which the writing is created, nor at the influence of the teachers’ social and cultural views on their assessment of the writing.” Only looking at the cognitive aspect of student learning, assessments overlook the importance of the context of which a student peforms (Costello, P. & Johnston, P., 2006).

Assessments must also consider the influence of individual teacher’s objectivity. Though assessments claim to be subjective, evaluations on a students learning (especially critique of students’ writing) done by the teacher will always be subject to what the teacher expects is successful literacy skills. “Assessment practices are always representational and interpretive. A teacher, an administrator, and a parent are likely to make different sense of a child’s literate behavior….Even a test score will mean different things to them (Johnson,P. & Costello, P. 2006, p. 261).” To successfully assess multiliteracy skills, educators and administrators must include the context of which students are performing and which evaluators are critiquing.

Botelho et. al (2007) describe the attributes of a multiliteracy educator assessing students’ writing skills:

…writing must be a tool for living and growing within multiple social worlds using modalities that extend beyond the printed word. The problem with teachers envisioning the writers that children will become is that their visions may be limited to the social worlds that teachers know and value. Multiliteracies teachers are not willing to restrict the ways with writing and representing that their students use and develop in their classrooms to those that are recognised and honored in schools.

With consideration of the context of which students are learning, educators can better assess the strengths and weaknesses of each student, preparing them for a better future.


The New Learning Assessment

As the above video described, assessments in the 21st century must become more than the summative standardized tests. To fully understand the progress of learning, formative and summative measures must be employed. “Assessment must be seen both as an instructional tool for use while learning is occurring (formative), and as an accountability tool to determine if learning has occurred (summative),” (Partnerships for 21st Century Skills). Where “formative assessment requires not only noticing and making productive sense of the literate behaviors that occur, but also arranging classroom literacy practices that encourage children to act in literate ways and that make their literate learning visable and audible,” (2006, p. 262).

Project based learning and evaluations, observations of students’ ability to work within a timeframe and work collaboratively, rubrics, and portfolios create a better system of assessment (Botelho et. al, 2007; Kalantzis et. al, 2003; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007). Having varied, multiple assessments will create a holistic view of students’ ability to live and work in the 21st century.

While critique has been given to performance based assessment requiring more time and energy,  it seems worth it. Not only does it give immediate feedback to teachers to adjust teaching, provide students with feedback on their learning, it also reflects how students will be judged within the professional world; in college or at a job. If we, as educators, are to prepare students for their future, shouldn’t our instruction AND our assessments reflect their future as well?



Alexendar, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies. Theory into Practice, 47, p. 150-160. 

Botelho, M.J., Jang, E., Kerekes, J., & Peterson, S.S. (2007). Writing assessments: What would multiliteracies teachers do? Retrieved from

Calvani, A. et. al (2008) Models and Instruments for Assessing Digital Competence at School. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society. Vol. 4, n. 3, pp. 183 – 193.

Costello, P. & Johnston, P. (2006). Principles for literacy assessment. Reading Research Quarterly, 40, 2. 

Kalantzis, M., Cope, B., & Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing multiliteracies and the new basics. Assessment in Education, 10, 1, p.15-26. 

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 1. 

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2007). 21st Century skills assessment: A Partnership for 21st century skills e-paper. Retrieved from


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